I often find that the hardest reviews to write are the ones where I didn’t love or hate the book, but fall somewhere in between, in the awkward “It waI often find that the hardest reviews to write are the ones where I didn’t love or hate the book, but fall somewhere in between, in the awkward “It was okay” territory. It’s not so much that I was disappointed—I haven’t read many books that explore the aspect of communal living, so it’s not like I had much to compare Pretty Little World to—it just didn’t exactly enthral me. It was definitely an easy read, and I sped through it in a couple of days, but it just didn’t have that special something that pushed into the category where I loved it or raved about it to my friends.
I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction outside of the romance market, but I knew that I had to read this one as soon as the press release arrived in my inbox. I’ve become a bit of a hippy of late, and I love the idea of living close enough to your support network of friends (especially in a society were few people live around the corner from their extended families any more) that you can pop over to help with childcare or cook each other meals on a regular basis. I looked forward to seeing how the characters in Pretty Little World adapted to their new living arrangement and figured out whether it really was feasible.
I think one of the biggest issues with this novel is that it has a large cast of characters. We’re given insights into the thoughts of all six adults in the “commune”, plus one outsider who lives in the same street. That’s a lot of people to keep track of, and sometimes the character development was a little lacking. Celia in particular felt like a cardboard cut-out right up until the end of the book, when her issues finally rise to the surface. I feel like this is a pretty natural problem in a book of this length with such a large cast of characters. At the same time, I kind of wished we’d had some insights into how the children adapted to the change in living arrangements. I’m not sure how feasible it would be to work this into the novel, given that it already has seven adult protagonists, but at times the children felt almost invisible.
The two characters who I related to the most were Stephanie and Hope. I understood Stephanie’s idealistic, hippyish outlook on life, which often involves random dance parties with her kid instead of sorting laundry. I had more of a personal connection to Hope, possibly because she’s one of the characters who developed most over the course of the novel. When we first meet her, she’s struggling with the heartache of trying and failing to get pregnant with a second child, and eventually finds some fulfilment through caring for her friends’ children—and realises just how difficult her life could be if she did have a large family on a full-time basis, and begins appreciating the precious time she has with her daughter more. As a mother of one who has been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for almost eighteen months, Hope’s journey felt authentic, and I’m sure it will speak to a lot of women.
I wish I could say the same about the other characters in Pretty Little World, but some of their journeys felt a bit underdeveloped. Stephanie’s desire not to have more children clashed interestingly against Hope’s struggle, and at one point this conflict did come to a head—and then kind of petered out, as if the two women had just forgotten about it. This conflict (which I don’t want to go into too much detail about, because spoilers!) also had the potential to reveal some interesting insight into Stephanie and Chris’ marriage, but again, that was kind of skimmed over.
There was a lot of inter-marital conflict in this book, and maybe I’m just not the right market for this book, but I found it really depressing. Not one adult in the novel seemed to be happy in their marriage. Obviously, a book about three couples who are content in their marriages and have no problems is going to make for a boring read, but I did get seriously fed up with all of these characters. Hope and Chris were probably the most innocent—they bonded over caring for the kids, their love of fast-food and literature, and generally seemed to have a pretty functional friendship, aside from Chris constantly jokingly referring to Hope as his “second wife”. Stephanie and Leo bonded over their love of fine food and alcohol, and seriously crossed the boundary of what I’d consider acceptable in a marriage—and I consider myself relatively liberal. Mark’s behaviour, while a bit cliché, developed pretty realistically. I just wish we’d had more of Celia’s perspective on the situation earlier in the novel.
There were some really heart-warming moments where all of the families rallied around each other in times of crisis, and some interesting moments where they had to deal with small conflicts, like people taking items from other apartments without asking, or Hope struggling to look after all the kids when they get sick. I just wish there had been more of these sorts of conflicts as opposed to the inter-marital drama. I’m entirely certain that this sort of blurring of the boundaries of marriages is natural when living in close quarters, but I think reading about so many unstable, unhappy marriages really got to me after a while. By the end, I was kind of fed up with everyone and just wished they’d actually talk to their spouses about their problems, rather than each other.
On the whole? I have very mixed feelings about Pretty Little World. The communal-living idea is interesting, and not one I’ve come across much in fiction. I really liked the ending, especially since it reinforced the reasons they wanted to live together and how important that sort of support network can be in times of crisis. I just got tired of all the marital dysfunction. This may be a personal annoyance of mine, and not one that every reader struggles with. If the concept behind Pretty Little World intrigues you, go for it! It’s certainly a unique premise.
Disclaimer: This is a general market novel and contains scenes of a sexual nature, plus some instances of profanity.
Review title provided by Little Bird Publicity....more
While I didn’t fall head over heels in love with this book, as I did with Close to You, it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read. Littered with literaWhile I didn’t fall head over heels in love with this book, as I did with Close to You, it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read. Littered with literary references, it’s a book lover’s dream, and as a native of Britain, I appreciated the incredibly accurate descriptions of Britain’s unpredictable and dreary weather, and the equally accurate near-constant tea-drinking. I’ve been reviewing Christian fiction for about six years now, and while there are many historical novels set in Britain, it’s rare to find a contemporary one where the characters spend most of their time on British soil. While I’m not all that familiar with Oxford, it was still a pleasant change to read a novel set somewhere closer to home.
I prefaced my review of Close to You by admitting that all of my Tolkein knowledge came from the Lord of the Rings films, but I still absolutely adored Kara’s debut novel. Bizarrely, although I’m actually a lot more familiar with the Narnia novels—having read all of the books as a child, listened to them on audiotapes, frequently watched rather terrible 90s cartoon and low-budget straight-to-VHS live-action adaptations, and finally saw the most recent Hollywood adaptations—I’m not a massive, life-long fan of the series. I understood most of the references in this novel, in spite of the many years that have passed since I’ve read one of the books or even watched a film, but they felt a bit more forced than the Lord of the Rings theme that prevailed in the last novel. Maybe it’s because the theme in Close to You was directly tied to Allie’s job as a tour guide, while Narnia is just a shared obsession of Emelie and Peter, and only tangentially relevant to Emelia’s job at the literary foundation, but the references didn’t weave their way into the novel quite as well as I’d anticipated.
Do you have to be a massive Narnia fan in order to appreciate this book? Absolutely not! While Emelia’s love of all things Narnia is evident, her romance with Peter and her determination to redeem herself through her work at the foundation are the main focus of the story. Emelia has a lot of growing to do over the course of the novel, and I really hurt for her and hoped she would open up to one of her new friends in Oxford and gain comfort from someone who could ease the burden of guilt she was feeling. I appreciated the friendship that she developed with Allie, especially as I hadn’t realise that the protagonists from Close to You would feature in this book. There were a few times when I almost shouted “Just tell Peter the truth!” at the book, but her hesitance made sense given her backstory. There are some pretty big coincidences in this story—I mean, what are the chances that Emelia and Peter would become friends, and that Peter be related to someone Emelia had hurt in her past, when their lives are so different?—but I was able to overlook them because I was so wrapped up in Emelia’s story.
Peter’s pain is more of a physical pain, as he’s suffered an injury that’s preventing him from attaining his dream of competing in the Olympics as a rowing champion. In spite of my self-confessed Britishness, I know very, very little about rowing. I studied and St. Andrews and we are all about the golf—although, admittedly, I also know nothing about golf. Sports just aren’t my thing. Anyway, you don’t have to know anything about rowing to understand Peter’s frustration at having his dreams ripped away from him. He also has some issues with his relationship with his brother that he needs to work through, so it’s not all about his sporting goals. I did feel like I got to know Emelia better than I did Peter, but I didn’t mind this too much, as her story is very compelling.
I have mixed feelings about the spiritual element in this novel, partly because I tend to avoid books where the focus is on a non-Christian character finding faith. Maybe I’ve just read too many books where this storyline is badly executed, or cheesy, or contains a massive moment of revelation that no one I know personally has ever experienced. The development of Emelia’s faith definitely felt realistic, and it was a very gradual, tentative growth that made sense given what we know about Emelia. I still feel a bit uncertain about the novel’s focus on all of the coincidences that brought Emelia and Peter together, that were basically summed up as “This is all God’s plan for you” or “This was meant to happen”. I felt like it took away a lot of the agency and free-will of the protagonists actions, and it was just a little bit too twee and cheesy for my personal taste. While I’m sure the “This was meant to happen” angle probably works for some readers (and obviously it was enough to sway Emelia into believing in God) it just didn’t sit well with me.
Like other reviewers, I did feel like the conclusion of the novel came too quickly and summed too many things up in too little pages. While I was happy that Emelia and Peter were able to push past their problems and make an effort to be together, they didn’t seem to have dealt with everything, and there were still some issues that I would have liked clarified.
In spite of my personal issues with the spiritual thread and the conclusion to the novel, I’d still recommend Can’t Help Falling to book-nerds and contemporary romance fans alike. I might not have loved it as much as Kara Isaac’s debut novel, but I’m still definitely a fan of her work, and I’m intrigued to see which literary world she delves into next. At least, I’m hoping that this trend continues in her novels? Please say yes!
I went through a bit of a reading slump this year, but I couldn’t put off reading the next novel in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series. I mean, itI went through a bit of a reading slump this year, but I couldn’t put off reading the next novel in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series. I mean, it’s a romance novel set on Prince Edward Island. And I’m the girl who still owns the complete Anne of Green Gables boxset on VHS. And DVD. And, of course, all nine of the books in the series. This is my thing, even if it takes me over a week to finish a book right now.
I really, really enjoyed the first book in the series, The Red Door Inn. I got totally sucked into all the drama of renovating the inn and enjoyed meeting the secondary characters who resided in North Rustico. I wasn’t desperate to read about Caden, but this book definitely won me over, and I think she may well be my favourite character in this series. Sorry, Marie! Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching a lot of Gilmore Girls lately (for the first time—I know, I’m super late to the fan club) but she reminded me a lot of Sookie, with her bubbly personality that shrouded her hidden insecurities. It was encouraging to read a romance novel with a heroine who wasn’t stick thin or perfectly curvy, but also who wasn’t desperate to lose weight. Caden might have had her doubts at times, but I was relieved that she didn’t spend half the book berating the way she looked. She felt real, and I loved it.
Readers who are returning to this series for the details about the inn will be pleased to find that most of the novel takes place at Rose’s Red Door, albeit mainly in the kitchen. I loved all of the descriptions of Caden’s baking and cooking, especially her cooking classes with the local teenagers, and her attempts to create an amazing dish for the lobster cook-off. I spent most of the novel craving cinnamon rolls and fresh coffee, as well as basically anything else that Caden baked. Although it’s evident to the reader that Caden is fantastic at what she does, she has her worries that she’s not good enough for the inn, and that she might get replaced by someone better if it helps Marie and Seth draw in more customers. At times I wished Caden would just talk to Marie about her fears, but as the story developed, it became clear that that isn’t the kind of thing Caden would do—that she’s the kind of person who dwells over things but isn’t bold enough to face them head-on and possibly cause conflict. So although it bugged me, it felt consistent with her character, and what we learn about Caden’s backstory.
Adam Jacobs also has his own secretive backstory—which is much more mysterious than Caden’s—and again, I did sometimes find myself wishing that he’d just talk to Caden or his brother or anyone about his struggles. Adam was probably even more reserved than Caden, and a lot of the novel is about him figuring out how to deal with his past and move forward while still honouring the people he’s lost. Just like Caden’s desire to prove herself through her cooking, Adam is determined to redeem his past mistakes through his journalistic writing. It was quite interesting learning about the inn and Marie’s connections through Adam’s eyes, even though I knew about most of her secrets from the first book in the series. It was fun to view North Rustico again through the perspective of a newcomer.
The romance between Caden and Adam is incredibly sweet, but not annoyingly or unrealistically so. They were cautiously adorable, and they’re probably one of my favourite couples from this year’s batch of romance novels—and I read a lot of romances. Although they had their arguments over misunderstandings and withheld information, they resolved them pretty quickly and were, on the whole, a really relatable, lovable couple. I rooted from them right from the start, even if I wasn’t sure how they were going to mesh their very different lives together. The growth of both characters was fantastic, in addition to the way that their romance developed.
I don’t really have any major complaints about Where Two Hearts Meet. Bethany’s character felt a tiny bit like a caricature, but I did wonder if she’d be the focus of a future book, and maybe we’d get some insights into why she behaved that way? Marie felt a bit cold and standoffish at times, but I was aware that we were only seeing her through Caden’s eyes and that she was going through a stressful time with keeping the inn financially stable. I did love the other secondary characters who visited the inn, particularly the elderly couple who bestowed so much wisdom on Adam. As with the first book, the setting and additional characters really bring the story to life.
Honestly, I just loved this story. The romance was slow and sweet, but it never felt boring. I really cared about Caden and Adam—both individually and as a couple—and their character arcs kept me thoroughly engaged throughout the entire novel. When I reviewed The Red Door Inn, I mentioned that it didn’t quite have all the elements necessary for (what I consider) an Absolutely Perfect Romance, but Where Two Hearts Meet definitely fulfilled all of the criteria. I can’t wait to see what Liz does with Natalie’s story in the next book in the series. Summer 2017 can’t come soon enough!
This story seemed pretty standard to begin with and then PIRATES struck and everything changed. I swear, this series just keeps getting better and betThis story seemed pretty standard to begin with and then PIRATES struck and everything changed. I swear, this series just keeps getting better and better. I'll admit this book had more sex scenes than I'd like, but the tension between the characters and their internal struggles were perfect. Excited to read Cicero's story! He should make a nice change from all the stereotypically macho heroes in Eternity Springs. 4.5*...more
Zach was a bit too arrogant and alpha for my liking, but I loved Savannah's character arc (and her nephew!) and the rest of the story. I'm really starZach was a bit too arrogant and alpha for my liking, but I loved Savannah's character arc (and her nephew!) and the rest of the story. I'm really starting to get attached to this town and this series. Off to request the next book from the library! 4.5*...more
I'll start off by saying that I have a lot of conflicting feelings about Snow Out of Season. The premise of the story initially appealed to me becauseI'll start off by saying that I have a lot of conflicting feelings about Snow Out of Season. The premise of the story initially appealed to me because I'm a big fan of dual-time narratives (Kate Morton, Rachel Hore, etc), but the direction that the author took with this story wasn't the one I was expecting. Instead of the contemporary character uncovering some object or letter that linked her to the historical storyline and caused her to investigate it, the two stories ran parallel to each other but were largely unconnected for the majority of the book. When they did finally collide, it was a bit unsatisfactory. Although there is a dramatic scene where Shannon and Leslie connect, it takes place in a sort of alternate reality, and I wished they'd had a chance to sit down and chat in the “real” world, perhaps allowing Shannon to ask Leslie for advice about her situation.
In order to enjoy this book, you're probably going to have to be comfortable with unexplained magical occurrences. There's never any real explanation given for the way that Leslie and Shannon's worlds collide, or why or how Shannon finds herself in an alternate reality. There are a lot of parallels to A Christmas Carol, as Shannon is directing a production of the book with her students, but aside from this the situation isn't ever explained, and Shannon is ultimately so happy to be returned to her normal life that she doesn't look for answers. I feel like this book would be well-received if it was marketed as a Christmas novel. In my experience, random mystical happenstance tends to be pretty well accepted in Christmas-themed novels (Debbie Macomber's Mrs Miracle, for example). Since this book released in December and has the word “Snow” in the title, perhaps this will work in the novel's favour.
Both Shannon and Leslie struggle with very real dilemmas, and the reader gets a believable picture of the issues they're facing. Leslie is afraid to give up her dreams as a ballerina in order to have a baby, and Shannon is scared to have another child that she might lose. Enough of the women's backstories is explained to help us understand how they've come to be pregnant and why they're so unsure about keeping their babies. Even so, I never really came to care that much about them. Maybe it was all the hopping back and forth between time periods and the short scenes that I struggled with? Sometimes I felt like I was just getting into the groove with Leslie or Shannon's situation, and then the scene would change. I would have preferred longer scenes, and maybe even a longer book. 288 pages isn't all that long. I wanted more time learning what it meant to be a teenager in the 1970s, more time seeing Shannon grapple with her grief over her lost child, even if this meant fifty extra pages, or more. This book touched the surface on these issues, but I felt like it could have dug deeper if given the opportunity.
Snow Out of Season did really grip me towards the end when Shannon found herself in the alternate reality. This section of the novel was incredibly well-written, and even if I hadn't cared that much about Shannon before, I really empathised with her confusion and fear that she'd lost her family, and hurt for her. The tension was strong, and I flipped through the pages much faster than I had before, determined to see Shannon happily reunited with her family and out of this nightmare.
Possibly my biggest gripe with this novel is simply that I could see what it was trying to do, what message it was trying to teach me. It was so obvious and heavy-handed. Shannon has two healthy children and one that died of SIDS, but she's not sure if she wants to keep this new pregnancy because the baby may have a disorder that means it also dies young, or has difficulties throughout its short life. It's a pretty common situation. Throughout the novel, she's faced with strange occurences that eventually compound in teaching her a lesson about the importance of an individual life, helping her to make the final decision about her unborn child. I don't mind this message. I am unashamedly pro-life, and since I'm a mother, Shannon's story should have really spoken to me. At times it did, but mostly I just felt underwhelmed by the message and the way in which it was presented. I don't think it really added anything massively new to the pro-life argument.
In fact, I think Leslie had it pretty easy—sure, she would have to give up her career as a ballerina if she chose to continue her pregnancy, but she came from a comfortably wealthy family who would support her financially and emotionally, and she had a good man standing by who was willing to marry her. A lot of pregnant teenagers in the 1970s would not have had her advantages. Would she have made the same decision if she were from a less-stable family who would have forced her to raise the baby alone, or in an abusive relationship, or if she had been raped? I don't think the pro-life movement needs more stories of healthy, wealthy teenage moms. I think it needs more examples of women who truly couldn't imagine raising a child and the external help they require to get through their situation if they do choose to continue their pregnancies.
This has been a really difficult review to write. In a nutshell, I liked Snow Out of Season, but I think it could have been improved to be an even better novel. I know that it came third place in the Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest, but I don't know how many rewrites the book went through before it was published. I think it's a great debut attempt and shows a lot of promise for Christy Burke as a writer. Some of the elements that didn't work for me—the lack of explanation for the magical occurrences, the overt message—might not bother others so much. While I didn't love Snow Out of Season, it was for the most part an easy, enjoyable read.
Review title provided by Mountainview Books....more
The Hobbit is my grandfather's favourite book of all time, but in spite of my many attempts to read it over the years, I'm not such a big fan. My failThe Hobbit is my grandfather's favourite book of all time, but in spite of my many attempts to read it over the years, I'm not such a big fan. My failed efforts to appreciate Tolkein's writing almost caused me to miss out on watching the films, although my husband thankfully insisted that I watch them last year. I'm glad I finally gave them a shot as the story was amazing, even if I'm not usually a fantasy lover. I'm not about to go out and learn Elvish or even read the original books (that might sound like heresy from someone who runs a book review website, but have you seen the length of my to-read list?), but I did get totally wrapped up in the adventure and wonderful depiction of friendship and bravery in the movies. That's about the only requirement you need in order to enjoy Close to You. This is not a niche novel for die-hard fans. As long as you have a vague understanding of Lord of the Rings, and a love for great romantic stories, you're good to go.
I did not expect to fall head over heels in love with this novel. First and most obviously, I'm not obsessed with all things Tolkein. Second, smarmy businessmen don't usually do it for me in romance novels—I'm far more of a Beta hero kind of girl. While this book sounded like a quirky, fun read, it didn't immediately look like my ideal match, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Close to You far exceeded my expectations! From the moment that Allie called Jackson out for his poor coffee taste and ordered him a flat white (my drink of choice—why hasn't it become more popular in the US? You guys are missing out!) I knew that I was going to like this book. I love contemporary romances, but even I will admit that sometimes the plots feel a little recycled, especially in the Christian market. Kara Isaac's voice is a wonderfully refreshing addition to the genre, and while the trope of the rich guy whose girlfriend ran off with his money/business ideas has been done before, having the heroine dressed as a Hobbit tour guide for most of the novel definitely mixed things up a little.
I will fully admit that Jackson did not impress me to begin with, which fits perfectly given that Allie is equally underwhelmed by him. I probably warmed up to Jackson at exactly the same rate that Allie did, which is definitely the sign of a well-written romance novel. Normally I fall for the hero much earlier than the heroine, and spend chapters wishing she'd change her tune, but Jackson was perfectly flawed enough that he annoyed me for just as long as he did Allie. While Jackson initially appears to be a smug, manipulative man who only cares about his business enterprises, it gradually becomes apparent that he has deeper motivations that explain his somewhat ethically dubious actions. By the end of the book I really hurt for Jackson, and empathised with his desire to help his family, and the regrets about his past that weighed upon him. He ended up being a wonderfully well-rounded hero that I could root for.
Allie has a lot more baggage than Jackson, but in spite of this, I felt like she was a much stronger character than Jackson, at least initially. I admire any woman who can feel confident while wearing Hobbit feet, especially if she can manage a crew of demanding Tolkein fans for three weeks. Allie's job is about as stressful as her relationship baggage, and I was a fan of her as soon as she shot down Jackson's taste in coffee. While she initially amused me, she quickly felt like a close friend, and I genuinely hurt for her as she dealt with the drama surrounding her marriage to Derek and her feelings towards Jackson. The situation with Derek isn't one I've previously come across in a romance novel, but I felt like it was dealt with delicately and realistically. I did get a bit fed up with Allie's martyrish behaviour towards the end of the novel, but that situation worked out believably, and didn't drag on too long.
I had a few ideas about how Jackson and Allie's personal conflicts would resolve themselves, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong on all accounts. As nice as it is when a hero or heroine can solve each other's problems, it's actually even more refreshing when they can figure things out on their own, while still managing to make things work out between them. Neither Allie or Jackson needed the other to rescue them, but their time spent together did help them to come to some great realisations about their own personal issues. The conclusion to the novel had the perfect balance of self-actualization for both of the characters, and a wonderfully swoon-worthy declaration of love.
There are so many others things I loved about this novel—the wisdom that Jackson's uncle bestows upon both of the protagonists, the ridiculous antics of the other members of the tour group, the way that the author gently weaves Tolkein facts throughout the story without overwhelming the reader, Allie's best friend Kat who doesn't shy away from telling Allie exactly how she feels, Jackson's awkward attempts to convince everyone that he's really a giant Tolkein fan, the gently woven but terribly authentic spiritual thread—but I would definitely go over my word limit. I'll admit, I usually go over my word limit, but this time I would really be pushing it. So I'll just tell you that if anything about this book intrigues you in the slightest, you should probably read it. It's an honest, refreshing romance between two incredibly flawed, broken people, and I simply loved it. I hope you do too.
I tend to go through phases with novels, consuming anything and everything in a genre until I get just a little bit burned out and have to move on toI tend to go through phases with novels, consuming anything and everything in a genre until I get just a little bit burned out and have to move on to something new. A few years ago I was consumed with Amish fiction, before getting enamoured with historical romances. In the last couple of years I've turned my attentions to contemporary romances. While a lot of the novels I read are from the general market, I'm always on the look out for something new and refreshing from a Christian perspective. I'm a big fan of Robyn Carr and Kristan Higgins, and have yet to find a Christian author who writes contemporary romances that hit the spot the way these ladies do, but I've not given up hope! Liz Johnson's novel didn't quite meet all my requirements for an Absolutely Perfect Romance, but it was still an excellent story.
“Forced to work together on a project” romances are among of my favourites. There's just something so appealing about stories where the hero and heroine would never otherwise meet each other, especially if they don't exactly hit it off and are still forced to cooperate for some greater good. The Red Door Inn had the added bonus of having a lot of realistic details about the immense amount of work needed to turn a house into a functioning B&B. I'm not one of those girls who gets excited over picking out paint colours—my idea of “decorating” involves chucking a few pillows on the couch and sticking a scented candle on an end table—but I did find the details in this novel really interesting. I now have a lot more respect for people who have the energy to completely redo a property!
Even if I wasn't a contemporary romance junkie, I probably would have picked up The Red Door Inn for the simple fact that it's set on Prince Edward Island. Squee! I am such an L. M. Montgomery fangirl. As a preteen, I frequently reminded people that my middle name is Anne with an E. I have often bemoaned the fact that my hair is boring brown and not red (even now, at twenty-four). I've still hung on to all my Anne of Green Gables VHS tapes, even though I don't actually own a tape player. I have an entire bookshelf devoted to Montgomery's novels, including some interesting early editions that may have definitely seen better days. And the most embarrassing confession? Once, when I was twelve, I pretended to have a boyfriend named Gilbert. Yep. This is definitely my kind of book.
So, let's address the L. M. Montgomery connection. Can you enjoy this book even if you've never read Anne of Green Gables? Absolutely! The tricky part about writing a novel that's influenced by a classic work is the accessibility to readers who aren't familiar with the original. Liz Johnson does a good job of letting the reader know about the connection—references to the fact that Marie herself is a Montgomery fan, brief mentions of quotes from novels or things about the island that remind Marie of the author and her books—but the references are never “in” jokes that newbies wouldn't understand. The reader isn't overloaded with information about the novel's inspiration, nor does this inspiration overshadow the story of Marie and the Red Door Inn. That said, as a self-confessed Montgomery fangirl, there were some parallels to her work that I read into the story. In all honesty, I'm not sure if they were intentional or if I was reading too much into it? Jack—Seth's uncle and the owner of the inn—really reminded me of Matthew Cuthbert, in the way that he takes Marie—practically an orphan like Anne—under his wing and gently guides her into her new life on the island. Caden felt a bit like Diana—a local girl who immediately connects with the protagonist, and is self-conscious about her appearance. Aretha could even be Rachel Lynde, without some of the sourness, in the way that she always knows what everyone was doing and isn't scared to speak her mind. Liz also captured the small-town feel that's reminiscent of Montgomery's novels, but none of these elements felt forced in any way. It was a fantastic homage to the writer.
Aside from the PEI setting, one of the things that initially appealed to me about The Red Door Inn was the amount of baggage that the hero and heroine appeared to be carrying. I'm not big on squeaky clean heroes and heroines—stories are a whole lot more interesting when our protagonists are battling past hurts and figuring out how to love again. Marie's backstory was fantastically written. I don't want to give too much away, but Liz perfectly captured the fear and anxiety that hung over Marie because of the way she'd been abused, and showed just how terrifying it was to open up to someone new, even just a friend like Jack. I'm not going to lie, Marie's story is incredibly sad, and it's easy to get dragged into her struggles and find yourself feeling a bit down, but the whole situation was perfectly depicted. I was so pleased for Marie when she finally began reaching out to Seth. I mentally cheered her on as if she were a real-life friend, not a character in a book.
Seth's story has definitely been done before. Not that this is always a bad thing—I love when authors put a new spin on an old story—but I did find myself getting a bit annoyed at the way he treated Marie. He was hurt and betrayed by his fiance, therefore he assumes all women are out to hurt men, therefore he doesn't trust Marie. Even though she's blatantly suffering from PTSD and actually having full-blown panic attacks right in front of him, he still thinks she's a gold-digger trying to get her hands on Jack's non-existent money? Ugh. His initial hesitance seemed realistic enough, but after a while I got a bit tired of his refusal to trust Marie. It felt like he spent the whole book edging closer to her and then immediately regressing to his previous fearful, skeptical attitude. I also wasn't entirely convinced by the issues they had at the inn—I could see why everything had to go wrong so that Marie would feel that she had to step in and help, but it also felt a bit unbelievable that so many things went wrong, one after the other. Jack's issues with loans and the bank also felt a little bit drawn out. None of these are major issues that I had with the story, just little things that niggled at me while I read.
Unless you consider mixing up the wrong shade of paint to be a major point of tension, this isn't a terribly suspenseful story. No major external hurdles appear that prevent Marie and Seth from getting together, but that doesn't mean that their romance isn't satisfying when it does come to its conclusion. Their journey is slow-moving at times, but realistic given the struggles they're working to overcome. This is a beautiful story of two people learning to trust again, and the community that surrounds them and supports them as they grow together. I thoroughly look forward to revisiting The Red Door Inn and seeing the restoration and healing that it brings to future characters.